Netflix Party and other ways to feel less alone

For those who live solo, watching TV and chatting about it with friends can feel like socializing

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      Remember those pre-COVID-19 days of hanging out at your friends’ places and watching TV shows or movies together? Well, unless they’re in your social bubble, that’s not happening anymore. But you can approximate it with Netflix Party. Better yet, you can do it with friends who don’t even live in the same town as you—as long as everyone has a Netflix account.

      Netflix Party is an extension on the Chrome browser that lets you start and stop Netflix shows together, all while chatting about the show—or whatever else is on your mind—in a separate area beside the screen. Didn’t catch a character’s name, or miss a joke? Ask someone in chat, or rewind if you all missed it. Have a theory about where the plot’s going? Throw it out there. Love a particular line of dialogue? Simply write: “Nice.”

      My friend Rachel and I binged most of Better Call Saul that way, and it was a lot more fun than simply watching alone. Sometimes, we’d go for a long time without chatting, engrossed in the series’ slow-burn drama and character building. At other times, we’d send bitchy messages back and forth, often about lawyer Kim Wexler’s perky ponytail. I think Rachel had an issue with her earrings, which didn’t bother me. During particularly tense moments involving Eduardo “Lalo” Salamanca, the dangerously unstable nephew of Don Hector and a particularly nasty member of the Juárez drug cartel, one of us might simply write: “Noooo!”

      Netflix Party isn’t really good for deep-dive analyses; it’s better suited to pithy statements: “So-and-so is looking puffy,” for instance, or “Was that character in Breaking Bad?” And so on. I remember at one point we both simultaneously praised the evolution of the character of Mrs Nguyen, the woman who owns the nail salon that houses Jimmy McGill’s crappy, early law office.

      If something especially important happened, usually at the end of a key episode, we sometimes paused the show and switched to phone to discuss the matter at length.

      Rachel admitted that watching the show this way made her pay more attention to it. Because we were “watching it together,” she said she was less likely to fiddle around with her phone or check out social media.

      The downsides? If you’re watching a series, you need to make sure the other person has as much free time as you have. Four months into quarantine, life can be busy with work, video conferencing and chores. So make sure you have a good idea of your schedules before you start to determine if you’ll be able to keep up with each others’ viewing paces. It’s not really binging if you have to stop and start your Netflix Party watching.

      Then again, you could just watch a comedy—or a silly reality show—together. Those things tend to work well with Netflix Party. We watched an episode of the reality series Dating Around, and it was great fun, especially pausing before the big reveal to guess which contestant would get the second date.

      Other ways of watching together

      It’s easy enough to watch regular TV together while talking on the phone, much like Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan did in that high-maintenance scene from Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally

      With other streaming services, it’s hard to achieve perfect in-synch viewings of shows that lend themselves to group chat, like RuPaul’s Drag Race; often you’ll have to put up with annoying echoes while you talk to each other.

      You could also try synching up exercise videos to do with others. Since April, another friend and I have picked equipment-free YouTube exercise videos to do at home. While keeping our phones on speakerphone, we’ve done a countdown to press play, and then completed each workout together. Having the other person on the line motivates you to keep going, complete with groans of protestation.

      Since we both live alone, it’s a way of checking in with each other during a difficult time. I doubt I would do the exercises by myself. The only question we’re both wondering is: When are we going to get six-pack abs?